Thursday, February 12, 2009

Email from a guy with a long-term boyfriend

Last week, I got the following email from a gay guy who's having a crisis in his long term relationship:

Dear GB,

I recently discovered your blog. I wish I remembered how, now, since I definitely wasn't looking for a blog written by a gay banker in London! (haha).

Anyhow, maybe it found me, as I'm now having a relationship and personal crisis like I've never had before and for which I am completely unprepared, and of course, your blog is filled with a deep archive of questions and thoughts on these issues.

No idea if you've tired of responding to these scenarios, but I thought I'd try and solicit your thoughts on my own situation. I have finally come to the point where I am going to see a therapist at the end of this week, so at least this will help me to organize my own thoughts on the subject.

I am gay; I came out just as I was turning 19, had a brief affair with a guy (about three months), another brief affair with one other guy (one week!) and then met my current partner. We have been together since, so we are coming up on 16 years together this spring. At the onset of the relationship, we agreed to be monogamous. If you do the math, this means I have had sex with three men. In my life.

About six years ago, after several years of declining sex (with him) and increased self-gratification (from me!) and the occasional feeling from me that he was being odd, I learned that he had been having sex on the side with many men. He was very, very, very apologetic, said he hadn't been able to control himself, that he was trying to, that he had thought about leaving me but wanted to stay with me to be a good person, and because he loved me, and asked me to forgive him, etc etc. At the time, it shattered my world. But I loved him, and eventually decided to stick it out.

In a way, I got over it eventually. We re-established some rules - still monogamy but anything up to actually touching other guys was fine (cam to cam, etc). Since then, he's had some encounters (steam rooms, occasional quickies) and has, in general, told me about them when he slips up. It upsets me, but having been through this before, I have been surprised by how much less upset I was over time with each successive encounter. While this has been going on, in general, our interest in sex with each other has remained very, very low. We still have it, but very infrequently and routinely.

So here's my actual current problem: he has always told me he would be fine with me going to see an erotic masseur (a service he has frequented) sort of as a concession to his own activities. I had done so on two occasions past, but as fun as it was, it wasn't something that really drew me back. No matter how hot the guy, I think I get more of a thrill out of the emotional/sexual mix you get with a lover and not a hired hand. However, I decided this winter to start getting a massage once every couple of weeks for health, and figured, as long as he doesn't mind, why not throw in the bonus at the end? So I picked out a masseur and went to see him, and WOW we had a connection, and I have found it difficult not to see him at least once a week since.

It has really re-awakened for me something I had given up on - real touch and connection and desire. I had thought that this needed to be sacrificed for long-term companionship.

I think I could continue on this path, actually, without ruining my current relationship. I think my partner would be fine with it, if we talked about it. But, I think I want the full package, and think I realize now that I don't have it with my current relationship. One way to put it is, we're good friends, we're good roommates, but that's it. I have very tender feelings towards him, but am not at all attracted to him sexually anymore (and I'm not sure I want to be), and am starting to question what feelings constitute 'love'! Big questions, and not ones I thought I'd be grappling with at my age!!!

I am starting to think I do not want to be in a relationship where I am with someone who is a great friend, but with whom I do not have a sexual connection. I feel like it's not fair to him or to me, since I would be wanting more elsewhere when we're together. On the other hand, I can't contemplate breaking up with him for even a minute without complete and utter breakdown. He's been my whole life for so long.

I'm really stuck. If you read all the way through this and have thoughts, I sure would appreciate them as an outside opinion (and those of your readers).

Thanks, GB. I hope all is well on your end. :)

I sent back a reply immediately, asking whether there was a significant difference in age between the two of them, and also asking the reader why he started declining sex with his boyfriend. In his reply he said that his boyfriend was only slightly older, before going on to say:

I've never actually declined sex from him, as he got into sleeping around (this timeline became more clear after the fact) he began to show considerably less interest in me more and more, to the point where he would not be able to finish, and we never really recovered from there. I was always still fairly active, but in the face of disinterest it became less....satisfying. Since he told me about his activities, we have both tried to keep activity up, but it's more akin to a household task than something enjoyable. Even now, I am the only one who initiates.

My first thoughts about this reader's situation are that there are similarities to the situation that developed between me and ex-boyfriend S. I'm like the reader's boyfriend who was having sex with other guys, and the reader is like ex-boyfriend S. However there are some differences. As the years went by I engaged in fewer activities with ex-boyfriend S, however I never completely lost interest in him and indeed it was almost always me who initiated anything. That situation lasted right up until the problems arose that caused me to go on holiday with ex-boyfriend P, so the two of us maintained a sexual connection for 16 years.

In my experience, it's very common for sexual passion to decrease in gay male relationships as the years go by, and as that happens the friendship and companionship usually becomes stronger to compensate. However the absence of a meaningful sexual relationship in the reader's case is a cause for concern. Since the friendship and companionship are there though, it would be a pity to throw it all that away without attempting to save the relationship. Indeed it would take a very long time to find another boyfriend and reach the same level of friendship, and it may turn out that no adequate replacement is ever found. In these situations it's important to remember that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, although the reality is often different. Having said that, I don't think the current situation is sustainable in the long term, so the best thing is to try and address the issues rather than let the problems fester.

If the two of them are to stay together, one thing which needs to be repaired is their communication. Love and sexual attraction won't return until there's effective communication between the two of them. The reader's boyfriend has become used to hiding things from the reader, and now the reader is seeking advice from a counsellor and from this blog instead of discussing things with his boyfriend. As a first step down this path, in the near future I think the reader needs to find a way to discuss all these issues with his boyfriend.

One problem may be that the reader's boyfriend feels constrained by the theoretical monogamy that they've agreed. However the reader himself may now be able to accept a more open relationship, so one idea would be to try that instead of splitting up at this stage. Indeed, just as the companionship aspect of gay male relationships strengthens over time, relationships often become more open over the years. The hope would be that by making the relationship more realistic, the two of them would strengthen their feelings for each other, hopefully to the extent that occasional sex would be a joy rather than a chore. Needless to say, many types of open relationship are possible, but if the two of them start communicating properly then they should be able to work out what's best for them.

Another idea is couples counselling. Although it didn't help with me and ex-boyfriend S, with hindsight I think that the biggest issue in my case was the fact that ex-boyfriend S was unhappy with other aspects of his life, which over a long period of time poisoned our relationship. My blame lies with the fact that I didn't spot what was going on and attempt to fix it. However this reader's situation is different so couples counselling may help in his case. A major part of couples counselling relates to restoring good communication, so if they find it hard to do this on their own then it should be of help. The right counsellor could also help with different ideas for constructing open relationships.

However, if the reader does end up breaking up with his boyfriend, it'll be more because their relationship has reached some kind of natural conclusion rather than 'irreconcilable differences'. In that situation, hopefully the two of them can remain friends, and hence keep some of the benefits of their long association. Indeed, in my case I remain good friends with ex-boyfriend S, however the situation with ex-boyfriend P is completely different and if I ever see or hear from him again it will be too soon!

Do any other readers have any thoughts that might help?


Anonymous said...

It is hard to imagine that the relationship, as it is now, can be saved.

It would be a good idea to start by recognizing the facts at hand: monogamy does not work for at least one of the partners. It never has and it never will.

The available options are rather limited: you can establish an open relationship, treasure your friendship and companionship as well as many years of being together. You will have to recognize that men do NOT necessarily equate sex with love and that getting your rocks off with many guys, indeed, can be fun. Free yourself from a concept that has NOT worked for you. Hoping that sexual attraction between the two can be restored after all that has happened, and after we all understand that at least one of the partners is inherently promiscuous and possibly needs always a novelty to get him going, is rather an illusion.

The second option would be to part ways and take the risky, if a bit of a 'high road' and recognize the fact that for one partner, sex without strong emotional ties does not mean fulfillment.

What would I do?

I would convert my relationship into a good, solid friendship and companionship. I would state very clearly that things may go one way or the other, and that life does not issue any guarantees to anyone.

I would go on enjoying both my 'old' friendship and making the new ones. Only once I am positive that I still want to part my ways with my old partner, would I do so.

Base your future upon an open dialogue and the idea that no one owns anyone here. Arrangements, such as they may be are always open for discussion and possible termination.

Nothing can ever be taken for granted.


Kissaki said...

Although I am young and never been in a relationship before, I read a lot and I watch a lot TV series.I think this kind of thing happens not only in homosexual relationships but also in heterosexual ones. It is so easy to get tired with just one person. Last year I watched a TV series - SwingTown. One of the couples married at an early age, and when their oldest child is at the age of high school, they kind of get bored with each other. Being affected by their new neighbors, they begins to try open marriage. And things do get better at first. Instead of cheating behind, maybe you two can do it aboveboard. No hiding and tell each other everything and of course you need make some rules.

But I am Asian and protestant, I cannot accept open relationships myself. I think if the relationship is really worth saving and you have faith on that person, why not try "dating"? Go and see a movie after work for instance. Try new sexy underwear, go on a trip to some remote places together, to name some. Use the great opportunity of the coming valentine's day!

Hope I have made some point.

Ken Skinner said...


I have a real issue with honesty and trust in relationships. Once you've been burned once it's hard not to have a strong emotional reaction.

I had a boyfriend that I was with for two years who, when we broke up, had been sleeping around for, oh, two years, despite him insisting on us having a monogamous relationship. Ironically, he was terrified of catching HIV and I guess he figured that he could halve the risk if only one of us was sleeping around.

He was a lazy sod and 'preferred' not to work if he didn't have to, so mostly he was 'at home' during the daytime.

After the first year I recognised that the relationship wasn't working on the intimate level as we'd simply stopped having sex. It wasn't by my choice!

Each night, he'd simply go straight to sleep without even touching me. I was left having to 'take care of business' whilst he lay snoring next to me. At times I'd even have to jack off in the office toilets at lunchtime (which, trust me, was noooot a turn on!).

I tried to suggest that if he no longer found me attractive for whatever reason that maybe we should try going to saunas etc to shake things up a little. He said no. Sex with someone else 'didn't interest him'. I figured that I was going to be stuck in a sexless relationship. At the time I was dumb enough to believe that this was an acceptable compromise.

There are some compromises that you have to make in relationships. Sex is a basic human need and does bond people together. It's nature. You really can't afford to compromise that aspect of your life.

It was only one morning when I woke up, went to check my email and accidentally started mistyping my username that the new Windows autocomplete function dealt a fatal blow to the relationship. It logged me straight into one of the many email accounts he'd set up for lining up outside tricks.

At the time I was truly devastated. I must confess that I'd pretty much stopped being in love with him and there was definitely nothing going on physically so the hurt was tempered by it being a convenient 'moral' excuse for breaking up with him. Honestly, I wish I'd had the balls to do it sooner, but I guess I had learned from my parents that you simply had to make any sacrifice necessary for a relationship.


So, that was a long winded way of saying... Ouch! I cannot imagine the strength of character you must have to continue a relationship after that level of dishonesty.

It's funny. I find it easy enough to calmly rationalise the other person's perspective and how secrecy may have seemed the only option to him... but being on the receiving end must have been one hell of a shock.

I have my own opinion on what you should do based on my history, but I wouldn't dare to suggest that it'd be the right course of action for everyone. I broke up with that boyfriend and shortly went on to meet my husband, the love of my life. Our relationship is so completely different. We're still hot for each other after 8 years, if anything more so than when we first met. Over the years our sex life has had ups and downs, but it's always ended up... up! We're also painfully honest with each other. I have total faith that if he wanted to sleep with someone else that he'd tell me. Same goes for me. Our relationship is too precious to us to be dishonest with each other.

The only thing I'd say is that while it's PC to say that this decision should be made together, at this point I think you need to recognise that it's about you. Your partner seems happy to continue along this path, even though it clearly doesn't work for you. If it did then you wouldn't still be struggling with it. You need to figure out what you want to do and then live with that decision.

To that end I heartily endorse talking it through (by yourself) with a counsellor. Get everything straight in your head so that you know that whatever decision you make, it's one you can live with.

I think you already know what you want to do, though, that you just need someone else to say it's okay.

The other thing I would say is that if you do try and find some way to make it work with your boyfriend then you guys need to find a way to communicate really well. If you have this stuff going through your head then he needs to hear it otherwise you won't get his perspective. That's the bitch about relationships, there are always 2 people who have their own thoughts, needs and wants. If you don't openly discuss them then they're going to end up trampled on.


And yes, all the above is just my opinion based on not-that-much information and a lot of projection! Feel free to disregard!

Ken Skinner said...

PS What exactly does an erotic masseur do for you? I'm just curious!!!! I know it's probably 'the obvious' thing I'm thinking, but I was wondering whether there was more to it or is that slipping into 'escort' territory!

Anonymous said...

If you want a real advice run the fatest you can from this blog..they give such bad advices from a bunch of whores I think it's a bit hypocritical...anyway they are all gonna be fired soon so who cares really

Ken Skinner said...


I'm not a whore!

...but if you've got £50 I'm listening...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - that was constructive. Have you actually read anything here?

I find the original post to be very close to home. I've been in a relationship for years now and my story reads almost the same (except for the masseur part). I like to think that I can have the best of both worlds - a husband and an open relationship, but I don't know how that could work.

First of all, if you don't talk abou this sort of thing much, how do you start? Do you wait until one of you gets caught doing something bad? Then it'd be an emotional reaction to a crappy situation.

Do you bring it up out of the blue? "By the way, seeing as we don't screw each other any more, what would you say to us screwing other people?" Hmmm...

Even if you do end up miraculously agreeing, how would the practicalities of it work - especially if your lives are so intertwined?

I've spent years worrying about this and years keep flying by. My biggest fear is not knowing how much I'm going to regret not having done something about this earlier.

I guess I'll just have to be another one keeping up the status quo...

And another thing, Anonymous, how do you know if they're all going to be fired? Perhaps you mean "made redundant"? I think you'll find that many readers don't work in finance.

What sage words of wisdom can you offer? Or does Mum not let you have boyfriends?

A, London

Anonymous said...

Reflecting on this, there is a big difference between knowing what you need to do and actually taking any action. A good therapist will help get your thinking sorted out but you will still need to take action which is hard. Then again having a therapist will help you understand your reactions when you take the action.
In my situation, which is different but has similarities, I found being fully honest in a sensitive way (i.e. not being angry and abusive) was the best approach. The reality is that it made my thinking clearer and also helped my partner.
Hope this works out.
Rob, Sydney

GB said...

Thanks for all your comments guys :-)

The first anonymous commenter is *probably* a guy called Michael, who left this comment in response to my advice to a guy with whom he was having some kind of relationship. He's left a few comments like that in the past.

Perhaps at some point I should do a post about how to go about difficult conversations. I should be able to come up with an alternative to "By the way, seeing as we don't screw each other any more, what would you say to us screwing other people?" LOL :-).

GB xxx